’Tis the season, as they say, for giving. I know this because lately I’ve received many requests from small publishers and other literary organizations for end-of-year donations—three on Thursday alone, including one from my local arts org. They’re all worthy causes.
I want to help, truly. But it’s tough right now, what with gifts for family and friends, trips, the annual party my wife and I host for local writers, prepping for winter expenses, etc. I’m no nonprofit marketing expert, but I can’t help wondering if this might not be the best strategy for the literary orgs.
Don’t forget, many traditional nonprofit agencies also appeal to their donor bases this time of year. Is there room in the hearts and wallets of philanthropists, big and small, to make additional donations right now? It may be tough for many people to justify an extra donation or two when they’re asked to help the homeless, the hungry and others. As much as I believe in the literary/arts cause, it’s a difficult sell compared to those needs.
One publisher I know, Dzanc Books out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, takes a different approach. They have a variety of fundraising options throughout the year, many of which offer something in return for donations, such as personal story critiques from established writers, workshops, and more. They sponsor an annual event to raise money for kids’ reading programs in April, which happens to fall right about the time many people have just received their tax refunds. Hmm.
Related to all this is recent talk in Washington about raising revenues by cutting tax deductions. One idea that is gaining bi-partisan support would cap deductions at income-based levels, no matter what the deductions are. As David Brooks of The New York Times, and others have pointed out, this would push filers to take non-discretionary deductions like home mortgage, state and local taxes, and interest payments to reach the cap, instead of donations, and could have a catastrophic effect on charitable giving in the US.
I think nonprofits in general, and literary organizations in particular, would do well to take hard looks at their futures, and craft strategies that address timing, consistency and political issues. It could mean the difference between continued existence and failure for many.
Controversial Book Review Update:
A thumbs up from my co-editors and the publisher at LA Review. I’ll post the essay with our December book reviews and provide a link here.